Last summer, community leaders said public and private interests were aligned – in a way that may be unprecedented – to move the city forward. City leaders rolled out a “revitalization roadmap” that identified priorities.
Now, some Johnstown area economic leaders are urging business owners to show support for what they say is a vital step: a research report to identify which projects should receive funding and to create an overall strategy that collects and guides initiatives and plans, including the roadmap, that already are underway.
“We have community leaders coming together to say we need to fix Johnstown and create a vision,” said Bill Polacek, CEO of JWF Industries, who plans to present a proposal for the report to City Council members at their Wednesday meeting.
“My observation is no one has that one plan. We need to move in one direction.”
Polacek and a group of area business leaders have been working with the Remaking Cities Institute at Carnegie Mellon University to propose a research study that would result in a “strategic action plan” for the city. He said the study would help local projects receive state and federal funding because it would demonstrate a focused, collaborative approach.
The Greater Johnstown/Cambria County Chamber of Commerce is backing the movement and urging business owners to do so, too, said Robin L. Quillon, chamber board chairman and publisher of The Tribune-Democrat, adding that time is running out to create a plan to help the city as it transitions out of Act 47 distressed status.
Johnstown’s distressed status is set to expire in October 2018, according to the commonwealth’s Department of Community and Economic Development.
“Every business in the Greater Johnstown area has skin in the game,” Quillon said. “We all have to be supportive of this effort because the clock is ticking.”
The goal for the City Council appearance, he said, is to present the concept to council, although the business leaders involved have been working with the city’s mayor and city manager.
“We want the rest of City Council members to understand we’re behind this and we’re pushing to get something done,” Quillon said. “The chamber is firmly and solidly behind this initiative.”
He also has asked county commissioners to participate.
“If Johnstown is a stable, healthy, thriving place, then the region thrives,” Quillon said.
“We’re hoping that business owners show up. Certainly, we want everybody who cares. It’s important that the businesses get involved. Small businesses are the backbone of any community. We have to get out of distressed status, and that will take everybody lifting where they stand.”
Polacek said he also will be asking the city to pitch in $10,000 toward the $60,000 report, to be completed by the institute and compiled with site visits and sessions with local leaders and businesses. A portion of that was funded through the Community Foundation for the Alleghenies, Polacek said, and organizers have raised $40,000 so far.
“This is a maturation of a lot of plans, including (the revitalization roadmap), aimed at getting everybody on the same page,” Polacek said. “If you consider pillars – like a JARI, City Council, others in the Greater Johnstown community – everybody has a plan. What we’re going to do is put all those together and create one plan everyone is working toward, which will help us get funding from the state and federal government.”
The concept to work with the institute toward a research report has been underway under the guidance of a handful of city leaders, Polacek said.
“We need a collective, collaborative effort,” he said. “This can only be accomplished through collaboration among our city leaders, business leaders and politicians so we move in a deliberate direction. There are so many people doing wonderful things, but it needs to be deliberate and focused.”
Polacek said business owners are asked to attend the meeting – and to be part of the research and, ultimately, the implementation.
“Going forward, the message is it is not just necessary to collaborate,” he said. “It will be the ground rules. This plan will be generated with feedback from community. Everybody has ownership in this. It will be a roadmap not just to leave to distressed status, but to be a successful, vibrant city.”
Why: To identify projects where limited resources should be directed and to create an overall strategy that aligns economic development and other initiatives underway already.
Who: The project would be led by a steering committee, housed at the Community Foundation for the Alleghenies.
How: Remaking Cities Institute at Carnegie Mellon University would conduct individual interviews with the city, JARI, Johnstown Redevelopment Authority and Greater Johnstown Regional Partnership for background on Johnstown and goals for the future. The institute's team members also would tour the Johnstown area and important sites. After a series of brainstorming sessions, representatives from the institute would offer a research report.
To get involved: Greater Johnstown/Cambria County Chamber of Commerce and other business leaders are urging individuals, especially business owners, to attend the Johnstown City Council meeting, set for 6 p.m. Wednesday at council chambers in the Public Safety Building, 401 Washington St., Johnstown.